Archive for June, 2020

Under A Palm Tree

Friday, June 26th, 2020

In 2001 Swimming New Zealand appointed Clive Rushton as its first professional Director of Coaching. While he was in New Zealand, he earned my unqualified respect. Intelligent, knowledgeable and blessed with a uniquely British sense of humour, swimming is a better sport for Clive’s time here.

I called Clive the day before I left New Zealand to begin a coaching contract in the US Virgin Islands. Clive’s comment on my new position was to wish me well and add, “Coaching is best done under a palm tree.”

I was reminded of Clive’s thought yesterday when I heard that the Comet Swimming Club in Gisborne is looking for a new Head Coach. That must be New Zealand’s best coaching job. Just consider the benefits.

THE TOWN (Population 36,000)

Okay I’m biased. I come from down that way. But nevertheless, what a place. Beaches to die for. Just consider this list – Okitu Beach, Wainui Beach, Kaitai Beach, Waikanae Beach and Midway Beach. The surf is perfect. The sand light and golden.

The main street, Gladstone Road, has everything a small city needs – good supermarkets, a modern library and all the normal superstores. Not to mention the best fish and chips in the country. But more than that the wonderful smell of summer tar melting on Gladstone Road will stay with you forever.

On the subject of weather, just consider these numbers. During the months of January, February, March, April, November and December Gisborne has good weather with pleasant average temperatures between 20 degrees Celsius and 25 degrees Celsius. The warmest month is January with an average maximum temperature of 24°C. The coldest month is July with an average maximum temperature of 14°C.

 New to the region since my Gisborne days are stunning vineyards and cafes. Without question Gisborne is as good as anything in downtown Auckland.


What can you say about the Comet Swimming Club? Mrs Beth Meade began the club in 1958. The club has only had three long-term coaches, Beth and her son Greg and grandson Andrew. Between them they built a culture of hard work, huge fun and success. Getting that right is not easy. But the Meade family managed it in full measure. Actually, the club reflects its location – a product of semi-rural New Zealand where hard work, equality and honesty are practiced and valued. The culture was so successful that for a few years Comet’s 500 members made it the second biggest club in the country. Only Mt. Eden beat us in those days.

Now Greg has retired,Andrew is studying to be a teacher and the club needs a new head coach. Whoever it turns out to be will inherit a Gisborne institution – a vibrant and caring agency that has done nothing but good for the lovely community it serves.


When I joined Comet, we swam in the old McRae Baths. I’m afraid the pool was in a sorry state. There was a crack in the bottom that let water in from the river during high tides. It was better than swimming in my river at home – but not by much. The pool water still got cloudy when the river was in flood. There was no such thing as heating and so the pool was only open during the summer months. In winter Beth had us swim across the Gisborne Harbour.    

Beth decided the McRae Baths should go and began raising money to build an indoor Olympic Pool. Greg and I thought it would never happen. How many Saturday morning sausages does it take to build an Olympic Pool? Then, one evening Beth got a phone call from a local lawyer. He said a well-known farming family, the Williams family, wanted to make a contribution to Beth’s new pool fund. Could Beth come to his office right way to pick up the money.

Beth asked me to go with her. The lawyer began by saying how much they respected the work Beth was doing. Mr. Williams wanted to help and was thinking of donating 100 to the cause. Beth thanked Mr. Williams for his donation but I could tell she was bitterly disappointed. The lawyer obviously picked up Beth’s disappointment.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I meant $100,000.” With other fundraising, Beth had hit the mark. That is how Comet covered the 50m Pool which looks out over Midway Beach.

In one meeting Comet went from having the worst pool in New Zealand to having the best.


Comet has a culture of success. I remember one Hawkes Bay/Poverty Bay Championships where Comet accumulated more points than all the other clubs combined.

Comet has also had its share of superstars. Greg was a New Zealand junior medley champion. Emily Thomas still holds a couple of Open New Zealand backstroke records and swam in the Commonwealth Games. Laura Quilter also represented New Zealand at the Commonwealth Games. Success in a club like Comet, with its pool, its tradition, and its history, I’m certain will continue.

And so, if you are a good coach, looking for a new challenge and want to work for the best club in New Zealand, send Comet your details. The lady to contact is Rochelle Somerton and her email is . But if all I have said does not convince you – remember this – Gisborne also has its fair share of palm trees.